“APPOINTMENTS, MEETINGS & OBLIGATIONS,” the top left corner of my grandfather’s calendars chorused, month after month, year after year.
What we find him doing this week … well, it’s definitely an obligation.
My grandpa would often use the tops of his calendars to list chores to be performed at some point during the month. It didn’t really matter when he fertilized the dogwood or got his car tuned up, as long as it happened.
The tumultuous month of October ’73 — think war in the Middle East, an energy crisis at home, and worsening Watergate — found him going downstairs to a funky, long-forgotten part of Hope Street to do some dirty work.
(Or at least I will presume, for the sake of this tale, that he did so. He never crossed the errand off his calendar, so maybe it lingered into November. We know from a prior entry that he had something else on his mind for the first week or two of the month.)
The basement at 1107 Hope Street hasn’t been invoked much in this ongoing yarn. Mainly because it was dark, and seemed only semi-finished, and scared Young Kurt enough that he endeavored not to spend any time there.
I was fine with other people’s basements as long as the lights were on. My other grandparents elsewhere in Stamford had a big sprawling furnished basement that was essentially a first floor, and I didn’t mind that. But the basement on Hope Street seemed cramped and primitive to me, and I was never much interested in going down there.
It was also full of tools, paint and such, being my grandpa’s work space, and I have never had any aptitude for handiwork. Maybe that factored into my distaste for the place as well. Handiwork, in my childhood experience, was what made my dad get mad and swear at stuff; and who would relish that?
Even when I wrote a room-by-room tour of the house on Hope Street a year or two ago, I spent about a sentence-and-a-half in the cellar. That was about all I remembered of it, and all I cared to know.
It’s a measure of the cellar’s utilitarian nature that, try as I might, I cannot remember ever seeing a picture of it.
My grandfather was big on documenting his surroundings — you name it, from the tile in the kitchen to the icicles on the front porch — and he lived in that house for 40-plus years. But to the best of my knowledge, he never brought his camera into the basement. That was the boiler room, where the work got done.
My dad, who grew up in the house, has a few stories that shine more light on the basement than I can.
When my grandfather smoked (my grandfather smoked?), that was the only room in the house where my grandmother would allow it. And my great-grandma used to marinate the beef for sauerbraten by stashing it away in the basement.
My dad had long since moved out by the fall of ’73, when the work room apparently needed some work in and of itself. So he wasn’t there to join my retired grandpa in slapping a fresh coat of paint on the walls.
I was going to suggest it might have been smarter to paint the basement in the summer, so he could open the windows and air the place out.
But the basement on Hope Street was below ground, so I don’t think there were many windows to open. (There was a big metal bulkhead door he could have left open, if he didn’t mind inviting every squirrel in the neighborhood to come stay down cellar.)
That coat of paint in the fall of ’73 could well have been the last coat he ever put on, and thus the coat that was there when I went to visit.
I couldn’t tell you what color it was, though. Everything I cared about was at the top of the stairs, not the bottom.